Lena Dunham’s powerful advice to her younger self on coping with OCD and anxiety

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Kayleigh Dray
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Lena Dunham has always been honest and open about her health issues in the past, documenting her painful endometriosis battle on social media, discussing her use of anti-depressants, and reminding us that there’s absolutely no shame in taking sick days when we need them.

Now the 30-year-old has teamed up with the Child Mind Institute (a charity that helps children struggling with mental health and learning disorders) to film an honest and emotional new video. 

Like Emma Stone before her, who opened up about her lifelong battle with anxiety, Dunham opens up about her struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the ways in which it has affected her emotional wellbeing.

Speaking to the camera in the footage, which has been shared by People magazine, Dunham explains that she feels fortunate that her parents encouraged her to seek treatment for her issues.

“I'm a writer, director, an actor and I have obsessive compulsive disorder and a generalised anxiety disorder that often leads to dissociative anxiety,” she says.

“I feel so lucky that my parents were people who were comfortable with therapy with medication and conversations about anxiety. I would tell my younger self that there's no shame in asking a teacher for help, telling a friend that you're uncomfortable and that it's just the same as falling down and scraping your knee.”

Dunham goes on to directly address her younger self, recommending a series of tried-and-tested coping mechanisms.

“I would tell my younger self to squeeze my dog tightly and to read a book and to meditate and breathe,” she says.

“[I also want my younger self] to understand that I'm not alone. There are so many other kids like me who are suffering this way and the greatest thing I can do for them and myself is to be honest.”

OCD is, according to the NHS, a “common mental health condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours”.

It affects men, women, and children – and can develop at any age, particularly around puberty and early adulthood. And, while the disorder can affect people differently, it usually causes a particular four-step pattern of thoughts and behaviours.

These are:

  1. Obsession – where an unwanted, intrusive and often distressing thought, image or urge repeatedly enters your mind.
  2. Anxiety – the obsession provokes a feeling of intense anxiety or distress.
  3. Compulsion – repetitive behaviours or mental acts that you feel driven to perform as a result of the anxiety and distress caused by the obsession.
  4. Temporary relief – the compulsive behaviour temporarily relieves the anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon returns, causing the cycle to begin again.

While OCD is becoming increasingly common (it is thought to affect 12 out of every 1,000 people in the UK), it is important to speak up and get help, as it is a condition which is unlikely to get better on its own.

However, as there is still such a stigma around mental health conditions, many feel unable to do so.

This is why it is so crucial that stars such as Dunham speak up about their own mental health battles, says Dr Harold S. Koplewics, who works with the Child Mind Institute.

Speaking to People, Koplewics said: “Here are these remarkable individuals who give a message that says ‘if you are not ashamed, if you speak up, if you get a diagnosis and if you get treatment, your life can be as full and as productive as anyone’s – if not even more so than some average people.

“One of the things that change people’s minds about this is when we decrease stigma… and now I think it’s time for us to recognise how real, common and treatable these diseases are.”

If you suffer from OCD, your GP can offer talking treatments and certain types of medication to help you stay on top of your anxiety.

The NHS also suggests referring yourself directly to an approved psychological therapy service – or you can visit and  for more information and support on living with the condition.

Images: Instagram/@lenadunham


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.